Lemon country

Size of the lemons !

The Amalfi Coast is undoubtedly lemon country. We walked through lemon groves everyday, and limoncello bottles lined the shelves of every tourist shop. Admittedly, I’ve never got over the limoncello’s cough syrup taste, but I don’t dislike it so much as to refuse an aperitif.

Several times, at the street stalls, I came across what looked like giant, genetically modified lemons with a very gnarly rind. I never found out what they were called, although they’re obviously from the same family. The monster lemons are impressive when stacked up next to their conventional cousins.

~ Spotted Cow

Limoncello

Lemon groves

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B&W Turkish coffee shops

Preparing tea

My photography friends are still in Turkey and posting pictures on Facebook. I’m envious that they’re there and I’m not with them. One of the things I loved about the trips were the coffee house breaks, which were photo opportunities in themselves. There was always coffee and tea on the brew. And there were always people playing cards or backgammon or okey (a game which looks like a cross between rummy and mahjong).

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Fried pigs ears

Fried pigs ears

These aren’t fried pigs ears. Or at least I don’t think they are.

The picture was taken in the Mercado de San Miguel food hall in Madrid. I was hurrying along to catch up with The Lovely J, and took a quick snap of these snacks. I meant to ask what they were, but forgot. I think they look like baby or midget pig ears deep fried in batter, and that’s how they’ll remain etched in my memory unless someone tells me otherwise.

~ Spotted Cow

Madrid. Stinkingly hot

Luisito

It was stinkingly hot when The Lovely J and I were in Madrid in early June. When you live in England, 33°C or 90°F at 10 o’clock in the morning classifies as stinkingly hot, although of course, we embraced the heat under the cover of umbrellas, hats and sunscreen.

Anyway, the point is that other than the 3 hours in the dance studio, most of the rest of the time was spent eating, drinking and gossiping in the bars. It pays to be sociable with the bartenders. You get to have interesting conversations and they may bring you specials or drinks or off-menu tapas.

One of the tapas places we liked was sitting at the bar at El Bocaito. They do wonderful padron peppers. The bartender persuaded us to try the Luisito tapa, which he described as a bit of prawn and squid with their house mayo and chilli paste, served on a bit of toast. “It’s a bit spicy”, he said as he sliced the portion. The Spaniards aren’t known for spicy food. As it turned out, the chilli paste was intense. It caught us by surprise, and it was hot enough to bring me to the verge of tears. Every time I took another bite, the heat accumulated in my mouth, building up an unholy fire. Meanwhile, the bartender thought our reactions quite hilarious, and eventually brought us some tortilla to mitigate the heat. I did like the lovely tingly feeling around my mouth. But it was stinkingly hot !

Bocaito, Calle de la Libertad, 6, 28004 Madrid

~ Spotted Cow

padron peppers

pimientos del padron

El Bocaito

Snap Chat. Food tour & food photos

Blood pudding with lingonberry sauce on a stick

I used to laugh at my Singaporean friends visiting London, who would took pictures of the food they ate on their travels. I’ve sat through photo files of steak tartare in Paris, truffle spaghetti in Siena, and breakfast kippers in London’s East End.

Now, with a travel & photography blog, I find myself doing it. Sometimes. It really is awkward. Inside light is often poor, white plates & shiny utensils reflect everything, and you stand about conspicuously trying to find the best angle.

The Lovely J is a bit of a foodie and she booked us on a food tour with Food Tours Stockholm. My favourite part was the samplings around the various stalls in the basement food hall at Hötorgshallen – where all these pictures were taken – and later at Meatballs For The People.

My modus operandi with getting the shots was to bump up the ISO, use a very low f-number and focus with a steady hand on one morsel of food. That way, the one morsel is in focus and everything else is progressively blurred. In order, the food images are of blood pudding with lingonberry sauce, ham in olive oil & garnish, and reindeer mousse with accompanied cold meats. All were taken on ISO 1600, f6/3 settings.

I also wanted a shot of the prep counter when the cook was making our herring and salmon samples. So I stood back to use the widest angle possible, with the camera still on ISO 1600 and a bit higher f9. Then a deep breath and fingers crossed that everything would come out in focus.

I think I did an ok job. I’m keen to hear other people’s travel food photography techniques.

~ Spotted Cow

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Swedish meatballs

Swedish meatballs

My Swedish colleague told me – somewhat indignantly – that Swedes eat meatballs at home, not in restaurants. However, apart from imposing on his mother’s hospitality, my lovely friend J and I were going to have to eat meatballs somewhere. And that somewhere turned out to be Meatballs for the People in the Södermalm area (Nytorgsgatan 30, 11640 Stockholm).

We had the classic with a creamy gravy, lingonberry sauce, mash potatoes, and pickled cucumbers. These guys know where their meat comes from and there is a map on the wall with animal stickers showing the farms. I wouldn’t be surprised if they know the names of all the animals, but maybe that’s a bit too intimate. Best said that there’s a variety of meatballs and vegetarians get a look-in too.

Incidentally, they are listed in the Conde Nast Travellers “The World’s Best Meatballs”.

I have to let on that we ate Swedish meatballs twice while in Stockholm. After all, you have to be empirical about these things. On our first evening, we wanted to go to Operakällaren Bakfickan as recommended by The Slow Pace girls, but unfortunately the kitchen closed early that day. So we ate meatballs at the place next door … and I can’t remember the name of the restaurant, but apparently it’s the regular hangout of Dolph Lundgren, whom I didn’t recognise at the table next to us.

~ Spotted Cow

Meat map

Meatballs for the People, inside

Meatballs for the People, outside

Eat

Eat sign

Eating. Fundamentally, one of life’s pleasures.

Sign spotted in Kono’s, Haleiwa – a Hawaiian restaurant where pig was the main ingredient on the menu. I liked the textures … of the sign, that is. The pig was delicious too.

~ Spotted Cow

 

Royal Opera House

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If you remember back to my Goodbye Summer post, I said I was going to do three B’s this autumn. One of them was ballet at the Royal Opera House.

In fact, I was lucky to be at the Royal Opera House twice in one week.

Earlier on, I saw the Royal Ballet’s production of Manon, which was gloriously tragic. The costumes, the set and the dancers were all very beautiful. I am not a big ballet enthusiast and don’t go often. So, the night out with my friend, the Ex-Ballerina, felt very occasion-like. She told me that the ballet dancers work through a pair of pointe shoes a week when they’re performing! I thought it would be the toe bits that break, when in fact, it’s the sturdy arch support which bites the dust.

Later in the week, I went to a birthday afternoon tea with The Girls. The Royal Opera House started doing afternoon tea in the autumn, and it is a wonderful way to appreciate the building. I love the Paul Hamlyn hall with it’s mix of Victorian and modern architecture, and the oval bar running down the middle of the room. It’s the kind of place you want to stay longer to linger. I enjoyed the tea and the catch-up. The cakes and pastries weren’t overly sweet, which is how I like it. My favourite bits were the scones and plum jam. It’s definitely somewhere to take an out-of-towner.

~ Spotted Cow

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Singapore eating

Chopsticks

I caught up with Very Stylish Neighbour and her Argentinian boyfriend over clingy noodles, dumplings and chicken wings. They were telling me about their trip to her hometown in Singapore, and in particular, his impressions.

He wasn’t prepared for the heat and humidity, thinking he was Argentinian and it wouldn’t be an issue. Even more so, he was astounded as to how often Singaporeans eat and think about food. He described a day when they went to lunch, had an after-lunch snack/dessert, followed by soup on getting home, and a discussion about what they were doing to do for dinner !

Chopsticks at the ready.

~ Spotted Cow

Chopsticks and condiments

Daily bread

Daily BreadYou can always tell where a bakery is from the wafting scent of freshly baked bread. A Turkish baker let me take pictures of him working in his shop, which was barely larger than the work table that you can see in the pictures. It was a difficult space to take photographs because there was hardly any standing room.  The light was very low and most of the shots were taken with a 3200 ISO setting.

His “actual” shop was the window ledge where he displayed all the made loaves. I’ve been watching the Great British Bake Off and I’m always amazed by the goods that come out of the oven.  My own oven is under-utilised.

~ Spotted Cow

Wife supervising the bakeInto the oven !Loaves of bread

Saucy Lamb at the India Club

India Club

The story goes that the India Club used to be the canteen of the Indian Embassy across the street on Aldwych. It isn’t fine dining. It’s formica tables, fluorescent lighting and nondescript décor. Not to forget, the atmospheric curry smell in the stairwell. I was told that I had to go at least once in my London life. So, I rounded up my foodie friends and we set off one after-work evening – me, the Fabulous Duo, and Very Stylish Neighbour.

Our waiter persuaded us to have the Set Menu. Great value, he said, at £14 a head for a variety of dishes – pappadums with pickled lime, coconut, sliced onions, and chutney dips, deep fried onions and deep fried chillies (burning hot!!!), masala dosa, lamb bhuna, chicken curry, dhal, naan and rice. Very Stylish Neighbour said she wanted a wet curry rather than a dry one and the waiter promised he would get the cook to make the lamb “more saucy”, just for us.

Verdict. The food was variable but good enough. The starters were as expected. Of the main plates, the lamb and chicken curries were delicious. The curry sauces had some depth, especially the “saucy lamb”. But the dhal was watery and tasteless and hardly eaten. And we thought that the vegetable curry tasted like it came from a can.

We had an enjoyable time, catching up with each other’s summers and making eating plans for the coming months.

We might come again to the India Club, although not in a hurry, and probably for lunch rather than dinner.

India Club, Hotel Strand Continental, 143 Strand, WC2R 1JA

~ Spotted Cow

Curry dishes India Club map

Onion flowers

Onion flowers

I took the picture of the onion flower because it was very pretty, and just perfect using a fairly shallow depth of field setting (f5.6), against an out-of-focus field of poppies in the background.  Ideally I should’ve used a macro lens, but I didn’t have it with me.

Did you know that onions produce flowers because they are stressed – like when there’s a cold snap in the transition of the seasons or if it’s been a baking hot summer. It’s called bolting, and you want to prevent if from happening.

If only human beings would flower when they become stressed. The nearest thing we do is turn red and florid of face. Yeah, not nearly as pretty as the onion bolting.

~ Spotted Cow

 

Istanbul 2/3rd day

New Mosque sign

This is what I’d do on a roaming around day in Istanbul if it’s a repeat trip. It’s a two-third day because I walk everywhere and inevitably I’m shattered by the time it’s mid-afternoon. So, here’s my top 5, assuming you’ve already visited the granddaddies, i.e. the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sofia.

1. Coffee and cake at Edebiyat Kiraathanesi. In my case, it’s tea rather than coffee. But here’s what swings it. They have a 100-page cake menu, in addition to the rows of lusciously glazed tarts and cakes that line their shelves. You’ll need all that energy to fuel the walking.

2. Shopping at the Grand Bazaar.  You can get all your Turkish souvenirs here. There’s a lot of tat, but there’s also interesting and good quality stuff. On my last trip, I bought some beautiful hammam towels to use as rugs to wrap up in the British winter.

3. An aromatic stroll through the Spice Bazaar.  I always pick up some chilli flakes – pul biber, which I think is the medium heat one. They vacuum pack it for you so that the clothes in your suitcase don’t end up smelling of chilli.

4. People-watching on the steps of the New Mosque. The “New” Mosque dates from the 16th century. It’s a good place for taking a breather and watching the children feed the pigeons.

5. Walk across the Galata Bridge and grab a fish sandwich for lunch. Locals cast their fishing lines off the bridge at all times of day, and you can grab one of the famed fish sandwiches on the opposite bank. Either get one from a stall or sit down at an open air restaurant and be served. You can guess what I chose !

All the photos here were taken with my phone camera because I wanted a carefree day. The results weren’t a bad compromise.

~ Spotted Cow

Strawberry tartHammam towelsSpice BazaarPigeons at the New Mosque New MosqueFishing off the Galata BridgeFish sandwich

Seville, in August

Seville bullring and bullfighter statue

In the last week of August, I went to Seville. I love Seville and I’ve been more times than I can count, with various friends and family and different times in the year.

This time, I did a flamenco dance course with the inimitable Pastora Galvan, whose hip swivels, shoulder shrugs and backward bends left me both frustrated and inspired by the end of the week, not to mention the lighting footwork and razor-sharp finger snaps.

I didn’t take my camera because I spent 3+ hours every morning in the school, and then there was the necessary eating, showering and cooling down afterward. The afternoons were stupendously hot – on two days it was above 40ºC – and the sun was intense. I stayed indoors, flat out on the bed with the air-conditioning on full blast. So, no pictures, apart from the few that I’ve taken on my phone.

The Slow Pace girls gave me a list of eating recommendations – thanks ! I wish I could have got to all of them, especially Abades Triana which they wrote about on their blog. The heat got the better of us. Next time. It was difficult to narrow down, but I’m going to put my Top 5 eating/drinking/flamenco tips from this trip.

1. Ena, the terrace bar at the Alfonso XIII hotel. Calle San Fernando, 2. The Alfonso XIII is a beautiful old world hotel built in the mudejar style. I didn’t stay here – I wish ! – but we had sunset cocktails on the terrace bar, sitting on comfy cushions against the lush setting of the gardens.

2. El Rinconcillo. Calle Gerona, 40. A really lovely traditional bar and restaurant with hanging hams, a long wooden bar, and beautiful tiled walls. We had Sunday lunch in the salon. My favourite dish is the espinacas con garbanzos or spinach with chickpeas. Theirs is Sevillian style, fused with plenty of cumin.

3. Casa Morales. Calle Garcia de Vinuesa, 11. A traditional tapas bar, just south of the Cathedral, where you sit among large terracotta earthenware jars. It’s small and gets crowded quickly at lunchtime. The menu is on the blackboard, and the wait staff will tell you the day’s special. On the day we went, it was arroz con carrillada, or rice with Iberian pork cheeks. Delicious !

4. Victoria Eugenia. Calle Cuna, 2. A restaurant that seems to specialise in cod dishes, because that’s what made up much of the menu. I’ve really enjoyed what I’ve eaten here even though I saw later that the tripadvisor reviews were mixed. This time it was cod croquetas and artichoke hearts with cured ham. So good ! It’s a couple of doors down from the Casa de la Memoria – below – which is handy after watching a flamenco show.

5. Casa de la Memoria. Calle Cuna, 6. There are plenty of flamenco shows in town, but Casa de la Memoria is my favourite because they have good artists, so you’ll always get a good show even if you don’t know who they are. This is where I first saw Pastora Galvan years ago. It’s a lovely intimate venue and there are two showings a night at 19.30h and 21.00h. Also, they don’t make you buy a food and drink package, which I think is a bonus.

~ Spotted Cow

Spanish finger food

Weekly Photo Challenge: Texture

Salad & jams

We ate really delicious food while travelling in north-east Turkey, and nowhere more luscious than at the bijou 6-room Moyy Hotel in Çamlıhemşin. Look at the textures and colours. I couldn’t help snapping pictures with my phone while the staff laid the table for mealtimes. It certainly whet the appetite.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Texture

~ Spotted Cow

Cheese & fruit Cheese with garnishLaying the tableMoyy Miniotel

Soup Dumplings

Soup Dumplings

Shanghai soup dumplings or xiao long bao are truly one of life’s eating pleasures. I indulged when I went to dim sum at Dumplings Legend in London’s Chinatown.

The dumplings are filled with meat and broth and there is a particular way to eat it. If you bite straight in, you’ll end up with a mouthful of very hot soup and/or a drippy wet chin. Neither is a good look.

Very Stylish Neighbour is our resident foodie and self-proclaimed soup dumpling obsessive. She demonstrated. You place the dumpling in the Chinese soup spoon which already has some vinegar sauce in it. Then you bite off the tip and suck out the soup, before proceeding to eat the rest of the dumpling. Lots of slurping noises and giggling ensues. One of the Fabulous Duo commented on the other’s slurping technique, “ohhh, that almost looks pornographic !” I’ll leave you with that thought.

~ Spotted Cow

Dumplings Legend, 16 Gerrard Street, London W1D 6JE

Dumplings Legend

Dumplings Legend location

Blue Eggs

Geese

Esparragosa de Lares, Spain

A rural holiday wouldn’t be complete without a farm trip. We took off into the outskirts – a 7-minute walk! – to D’s cousin’s farm. I was excited about seeing the animals, city-dweller that I am. There were just-born baby geese, hens a-hatching, roosters strutting, chickens running away from humans and curious lambs wondering why we were hanging about.

D’s cousin gave us freshly laid eggs which had a blue-ish tinge. Apparently, they are no-cholesterol eggs, although I haven’t been able to verify that. Anybody know?

~ Spotted Cow

Lamb with bell Sheep on hillsideRoosters and chickensHatching henBlue eggs

Teanamu Chaya Teahouse

Spring and afternoon tea with The Girls go together. We set off to the Teanamu Chaya Teahouse in Notting Hill decked out in spring florals, matching the new buds in the trees. It was afternoon tea with a twist of Chinese tea ceremony, where the focus was very much on the ritual of making and infusing tea.

We made our choices from the list of Chinese and Japanese teas. I went with the Organic Golden Monkey tea because I liked the exotic name and I was born in the year of the monkey. It turned out to be a black tea from southern China, dark with flecks of twisted gold. Our host made it for me. He warmed my tiny teapot, before he infused the tea, allowing it to steep for 40 seconds. “In the Chinese way,” he said, “we make multiple infusions, brewing the tea when we are ready to drink it. Not like the Western way where you wait for the tea to brew.” I liked that. The tea was light and aromatic, and I drank it out of the littlest doll-size Chinese tea cup.

Then came the food in succession – the dim sum rice parcels and dumplings, a plate of open face sandwiches with quirky toppings like bamboo shoots in mayonnaise, cucumber and sweet hummus jam (it sounds like a contradiction in terms), and a plate of sweets. I ate the toppings off the bread so as not to get too full, but by the time the pastries turned up I was pretty much at my limit. I needed a digestive stroll afterward on Portobello Road !

~ Spotted Cow
Tea set Teanamu Chaya TeahouseLo mai fan Teanamu Chaya TeahouseOpen faced sandwiches Teanamu Chaya TeahouseSweet platter Teanamu Chaya TeahouseKitchen Teanamu Chaya Teahouse

Spam Musubi

Yes, spam. The Hawaiians are crazy about spam. Did you know that Hawaiians eat more spam per capita than any other state in the US?  Nevertheless, it took some persuading from my college friend, Ms Southern Gal, that I ought to try a spam musubi. She is married to a Hawaiian Japanese, which lends her some credibility in these matters.

“It’s a really tasty snack. I bought some for breakfast tomorrow,” she said to my dubious look.

Next time I had the opportunity, I bought a spam musubi from the local 7-11.  It looks like an un-cut sushi roll. In the middle is a slice of cooked spam tongue marinated in furikake, a Japanese seasoning with seaweed, sesame seeds, fish flakes and other un-name-ables. It was surprisingly flavourful and quite filling.  I think the taste is enhanced by the seasoning, which melded the spam with the rice. Otherwise it might’ve been quite flat, just dry layers of spam, rice and nori. I liked it, and had another one the day after. Hmm, I wonder if it would get a following here in London?

~ Spotted Cow

spam musubi